Story by Deborah Welky | Photos by Denise Fleischman
The upcoming school year is going to be an exciting one at the Western Academy Charter School. After many years of success using rented space in a shopping plaza, Western Academy is in the process of moving into its new home — a 62,400-square-foot building located at 12031 Southern Blvd. in Royal Palm Beach.
“We’re very excited about going into our new building and being able to offer more opportunities for both our existing students and for new students that we’re now able to serve from the surrounding community,” said Executive Director Linda Terranova, who founded the school nearly 20 years ago. “We’ll be able to help more children.”
Western Academy Charter School opened with 157 students in 2003 and expanded five times at its previous location. This fall, the new building will open with 575 students — and they’ll all be under one roof.
“We’ll have more control over the security and grounds,” Terranova said. “We won’t have to use a public park as our playground. We’ll have our own fenced-in basketball courts, a soccer field, an indoor gym room and a large multi-purpose room. We used to have two small cafeterias — now we can have 350 people in this multi-purpose room and use it for the cafeteria, for dances, graduations, after care and special events like Halloween night. We’ll have more classrooms, pull-out support rooms and special education offices, too.”
With students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Western Academy offers traditional education programs that adhere to state standards and curriculum, but it was initially created to serve a specific need.
“My oldest son has Asperger syndrome and was falling through the cracks in the Palm Beach County School District system,” Terranova recalled. “Back then, children like him were secluded out in portables. I wanted him to be mainstreamed into the regular education system. I wrote the charter, and we expanded from that. There was such a high need for something that was not a district school, and we were the only charter school out here for years.”
Terranova explained that Western Academy is set up as a nonprofit organization, unlike many other charter schools.
“Because we are a self-run nonprofit — not a for-profit charter — we don’t have to pay a management company, and the money can go into the programs,” she explained. “We also have some flexibility for what our students need. We don’t have to wait to get permission from the school board, where it can take a long time to get the support down to the kids. We can implement programs for the students we have that year. If they have problems with math or have reading issues, we can tailor-make our curriculum to correct that because we’re an independent school.”
Terranova, who has a master’s degree in educational leadership, served as the school’s principal for the first 16 years but recently handed the baton to Tsiri Miller, who took over as principal for the 2021-22 school year.
“In my new role as executive director, my focus was to find us a new location, get bonds to pay for the new facility, oversee the renovations and get us moved into the new building,” Terranova said.
With support from the Village of Royal Palm Beach, Western Academy was able to arrange for bond money through the Arizona Industrial Development Authority to take over and update the vacant building at the northwest corner of Southern and Crestwood boulevards. It was most recently the home of the Palms West Charter School.
Western Academy has been an A-rated school since 2006 and has also been designated a “School of Excellence” for being in the top 20 percent of all Florida schools. Its math program ranks in the top 5 percent across the state. Based on tests given to all students in grades 3 through 8 statewide, Western Academy has beat all the district schools in Royal Palm Beach and emerged as the No. 1 charter school in all of Palm Beach County.
Miller became the principal after serving Western Academy as one of its assistant principals, dean of students, ESE coordinator and a teacher. She said the school’s biggest challenge recently has been providing high-quality education during the pandemic while keeping students and staff safe and healthy.
“Even during the pandemic, our students thrived and succeeded,” Miller said. “We were one of only a few schools in the county who opted-in for an A school grade in 2021 and remain the No. 1 charter school in Palm Beach County. I’m really proud of our students, staff and parents for working together and supporting each other during those difficult times. I am excited to be moving into our new building where we will be able to serve more students in our community.”
Terranova is delighted to see how the school has grown over the past two decades.
“The climate of our school is special because it’s like a family,” Terranova said. “We’ve been around for so long. Some families have multiple children going through our school. We care about the safety, security and academics of our children. It’s a family atmosphere in an all-inclusion school with regular programs, advanced/honors programs at the middle school level and programs for those who are academically challenged.”
Western Academy has closed its enrollment period for the coming school year with all spaces filled, a waiting list and a lottery already conducted. Call (561) 792-4123 to ask to be put on the waiting list in case a space opens up. In the meantime, enrollment opens for the 2023-24 school year on Sept. 1.
For more information about Western Academy Charter School, visit www.westernacademycharter.com.